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M.A. Shaban

Islamic History: A new interpretation, Vol. II, Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1971, pp. 138-139, 206

[The Breakdown of Central Government]

[p. 138] [referring to events in the 10th century CE:]

... From this turmoil emerged four strong men who retained their positions and held the reins of government between them for almost twenty-five years - Nasr al-Qushuri as commander of the first division; Gharib al-Khal, a leading general of this army, who was closely allied to Nasr; Mu'nis al-Fahl, as commander of this army, as commander of the second division police force; and Mu'nis al'Khasiyy as commander of the third division. Nasr, whose official titles were hajib, chamberlain, and mawla Amir al'Mu'minin, was of Khazar origin from a village called Qushura in the vicinity of Balanjar.[2] His recent arrival from his native land was betrayed by the fact that he did not speak Arabic well.[3] Gharib was Muqtadir's maternal uncle, hence al'Khal, the Uncle.[4] His association with Nasr and the fact that neither he nor his sister are described by any source as Armenians or Greek, makes it more than probable that he was also a Khazar.

The other two personages together are interesting. As they were namesakes various epithets were used to distinguish them from one another. One was khazin, bursar, versus khadim, high official; both terms allude to their respective previous activities. Because of his military achievements Mu'nis, the commander of the third division, was also called muzaffar, victorious, and in his old age he became known as kabir, elder. However, they were popularly known as al-Fahl, the virile, and al-Khasiyy, the emasculated. Although this had nothing to do with their sexual prowess, scholars, failing to see the vivid contrast of these names, have taken khasiyy to mean literally "eunuch." Consequently another aspect of the slave society theories has been blown up out of all proportions and has created a good deal of confusion. The use of the official title khadim to describe Mu'nis in addition to the term khasiyy has led to the unfounded conclusion that both words mean "eunuch". This confusion is compounded by the fact that in North Africa and Muslim Spain some officials had the status of khadim along with the military rank of ghulam or fata. As they also had the physical attribute of khasiyy, all these terms have been taken to mean "eunuch" also. Therefore we find "eunuchs" as generals, high officials, and even rulers. The scholars who have introduced this idea and come to this astounding conclusion have been influenced by the institutions of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman courts where harems and eunuchs participated in palace conspiracies ...

[2] Sabi, Wuzara', p. 154; Maqdisi, pp. 51, 355 and variant readings in the footnotes thereof; Yaqut, Buldan,vol. I, p. 489; Takmila, p. 29.
[3] Sabi, Wuzara', p. 92.
[4] Suli, Akhbar al-Radi, ed. J.H. Dunne, London, 1935, p. 5.

[p. 139]

and attained a measure of political power in these societies. Be that as it may, a eunuch is the embodiment of man's cruelty and inhumanity towards his fellow man. Such a frustrated and abused male may crave for power, conspire or be entrusted with confidential tasks, but he certainly cannot lead armies or rule governments. Anyone who has any doubts about that would only have to see a eunuch to realize this, and until recently it was possible to see in Egypt such pitiable specimens who had outlived their Ottoman masters.

What is being disputed here is the wide use of eunuchs in Islamic society and what is denied is their attainment of any power. The palace of Muqtadir in Baghdad was run by women and there is no indication that Mu'nis had anything to do with it.[1] He was called khasiyy not because he was castrated but because he could not grow a beard.[2] To the Arabs male virility was, and to some extent still is, represented by wearing a beard. Men were punished and humiliated by publicly shaving off their beards. Arabs geographers and travellers never tire of telling us of the various habits of wearing or shaving hair in other parts of the world.[3] In short, beardless men were considered less than normal and this abnormality had to be attributed to the physical defect characteristic of eunuchs.[4] Therefore, any man who did not grow a beard was commonly described as khasiyy. Ibn Khayyat, an author who died 854/240, tells us about an Arab, Sa'd of the tribe of Azd, who had been in charge of Kufa in 745/127 and who was called khasiyy. Then this careful author explains that he had been called thus because he had not had a beard.[5] The most famous and certainly not castrated khasiyy was Sa'd b. Qays b. 'Abada. His father had been a powerful leader in Medina during the Prophet's lifetime and he himself stood by 'Ali's side until the very end. However, this unusually big and brave man, like Mu'nis, had no beard and accordingly he was known as khasiyy al-ansar, the eunuch of the Madinan helpers of the Prophet![6]

We have no indications at all about the origins of the bearded Mu'nis, but the ready links the beardless Mu'nis had with the Byzantines suggest that he may have originated in their territories ...

[1] Takmila, p. 31; Athir, vol. VIII, p. 74.
[2] Athir, vol. VIII, p. 123; Takmila, p. 51; Miskawayh, vol. I, p. 160.
[3] Rusteh, p. 129; Bakri, pp. 175, 179; Hawqal, pp. 397, 482; Istakhri, p. 226; Mas'udi, Tanbih, p. 168.
[4] Maqdisi, p. 242.
[5] Ibn Khayyat, Tarikh, ed. A.D. Umary, Baghdad, 1967, p. 430.
[6] Isfahani, Maqatil al-Talibiyiin, ed. S.S. Saqr, Cairo, 1949, pp. 71-2.


[The Fatimids]

[p. 206]

...When 'Aziz died he was succeeded by his son Hakim, 996-1021/386-411, one of the most controversial figures in Islamic history. He has been accused of schizophrenia, melancholia, mental and emotional instability and cruelty, among other things. On the other hand he has been credited with idealism, generosity, benevolence and even genius. Yet the best description of him is by a good historian who lived about two centuries later. He said that Hakim was trying to emulate Ma'mun. We know the difficult situation Ma'mun had faced and how supple he had had to be to survive. Hakim was no different, he had problems and tried to cope with them to the best of his ability. The difference was, perhaps, that he came to power at the age of eleven. The Berbers of Kutama thought that they had an opportunity to purge the army of the easterners. The Christian wasita of 'Aziz was murdered and replaced by Hasan b. 'Ammar, a prestigious Berber leader. Nevertheless, they seem to have overestimated their strength because within a year they were dislodged by the easterners who then installed Barjawan as the new wasita. Here again we have another white khasiyy who was significantly described as "physically perfect", i.e. definitely not castrated[5]... [footnote 5: Maqrizi, Khitat, vol. II p. 3.]